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Can Someone Be Born With An Addictive Personality?

Addiction can come in many “shapes-and-sizes”. First we have the small, unnoticeable addictions such as exercise addiction, social media addiction, work addiction, video game addiction and yes, even coffee addiction (and more). Then we have strange and slightly-more-noticeable addictions such as plastic surgery addiction, thumb-sucking addiction, eating-ashes addiction and drinking-urine addiction etc. Last but not least, we have the obvious addictions such as drug and alcohol addiction, with around 300 million people worldwide reported to have alcohol use disorder and about 20-30% reported to misuse painkillers (SOURCE).

Whereas some addictions, such as video game addiction and coffee addiction, have a chemical component to them, there remains the question of whether or not someone can have an addictive personality. 

My answer is no.

During my years of working as a psychodynamic therapist, it has become abundantly clear to me that an addiction develops as a way of coping with an inner-conflict. It begins by acting as a control mechanism. We have a strong anxiety attack or an unbearable sadness associated with an inner-conflict, which we attempt to tame by drinking alcohol or using social media etc. At first, this method of coping with the inner-conflict works well but since the inner-conflict is not resolved, the anxiety or sadness will come back quicker and stronger the next time. Eventually, we end up using the control mechanism before the anxiety attack or depressive moment begins, leaving us drinking alcohol or scrolling on our social media feeds for no apparent reason. 

More often than not, the source of the inner-conflict is either relational, aspirational or societal. We might not have become adequately attached to our caregivers as children (this is common for children of drug-and-alcohol abusers, which is why many interpret addiction as being genetic or associated to personality) and have therefore developed an inner-conflict concerning our desire to be loved and our perceived inability or unworthiness of having a strong connection / relationship. 

Then we have the aspirational. Here we have an inner-conflict between our goals in life and the reality that we are met with. When our lofty ambitions of having a great career within a certain industry, growing and maintaining a successful business, achieving good results academically or gaining recognition as an artist or sportsperson, stand in contrast to the reality of us not being close to achieving those goals, we develop an inner-conflict that is symptomized by an anxiety or depression that we attempt to tame through substances or methods that we eventually become addicted to. We must also not forget that our goals in life are, more often than not, related to a psychological urge to heal the wounds created in past relationships. But that’s a story for another day!

Finally, we have the societal inner-conflict. This pertains to our desires not being compatible with societal norms or family values. In some countries, it is still frowned upon or even illegal to be homosexual and some families may not be accepting of people with differing political views or values. In this case,our desire to be true to ourselves stands in conflict with our desire for acceptance and in our attempt to numb the anxiety or depression associated with it, we become addicted to various substances or methods. 

In conclusion, addiction is born in our attempt to heal an inner-conflict. Until the inner-conflict is properly resolved, we will continue to be an addict, perhaps jumping between different methods and substances. Inner-conflict is best resolved through long-term psychodynamic therapy, wherein the source of the inner-conflict is explored and the relational issues that are tied to the inner-conflict are mended within the relationship between the therapist and patient.

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